Prompt: A symbol is an object, action, or event that represents something or that creates a range of associations beyond itself… Write an essay analyzing how that symbol functions in the work and what it reveals about the characters or themes of the work as a whole.
The instant connotation of Angels is heavenly imagery. We see white wings and divine beauty, or chubby children with perfect cheeks. Visions of purity, of altruistic souls without fault, are absent from the titular statue of the Stone Angel. Instead, an icon of sin is presented. In the novel, Hagar Shipley reflects back on her life, and how her pride harmed her. The author, Margaret Laurence, uses a stature of an Angel to symbolize how pride is formed for an individual, then consumes every aspect of their existence, forcing them to path of self-destruction.
The Angel is first introduced to the audience as a grave marker for Hagar’s mother, purchased by her father. Hagar makes her father’s, Jason Currie’s, true motives clear, “My mother’s angel that my father bought in pride.” Jason ignored the tragedy of death in order to present wealth to his town. The Angel also arrives sightless, for some careless sculptor forgot to carve her eyes. Just as the statue is carved blind, Hagar is carved proud by her father. Both were sculpted to suit their creators goals, and not their own. Therefore, her ultimate fault is not of her creation. Hagar comes to regard the Angel as a sign for her father’s dynasty, respecting it as she does him, and caring not for the woman underneath it. Instead of honouring her dead mother, the Angel’s true purpose is diverted to the sin of pride. Laurence uses an angel to symbolize pride, as traditionally Angels can be passed down. A familial guardian Angel is recognized for generations, and used to instill positive traits. This Angel is the Currie family’s demon, destined to haunt them for eons. Much like the unyielding nature of pride, the stone tat forms the Angel will never bend, only break. A heavenly image is set as representative of one of the seven tenants of sin. This juxtaposition, and others, exists throughout the novel, as comforting images are subverted into cautionary tales. It is here that Laurence shows Hagar beginning to harden with her pride, gradually taking on the stone nature of this paradoxical statue.
Hagar becomes increasingly associated with the Angel; it is no longer being a symbol of her father’s dynasty, but of Hagar’s hardened, proud nature. Upon her son’s death Hagar remarks, “I was transformed into stone and never wept at all.” Too proud to show her true emotions to the other mourners for her child, she compares herself to rock. Even if it is an unconscious realization, Hagar knows she has fully embraced the Angel and all it symbolizes. Her son, John, died joy-riding with a woman he was dating to spite his mother, much in the way that Hagar married to spite her father. Her pride has swallowed the life of another in her life. Next to the statue, lie all the headstones of her loved ones, many she cut out of her life due a slight or a damage to her ego. Just as the Angel stands atop a grave, so has Hagar’s pride led her to the death of those she loves. “Oh, my lost men!”, she cries in thinking of all of her dead, but unable to protect them from the Angel hovering above them, a symbol of her nature. The statue and Hagar are now linked, much like Hagar’s traits are linked to her. Throughout the novel, the association grows, with Hagar being called blind, stony, and hardened. Neither will separate until the end, with the Angel’s stone eroding, and Hagar’s health deteriorating. Laurence is once again adding to her paradox. As shown through a sinful Angel, first the accidental education of pride to a young girl, and now a mother’s refusal to cry over her child’d death. Both are acts that should be morally pure, learning and mourning, but are subsequently tainted. With this final consummation of pride into her soul, Hagar and the Angel are set to a course of self-destruction.
As she nears her death, Hagar envisions the home of the Angel once more. She describes the lack of attention it has received over the years, and acknowledges it’s oncoming fate, “Someday she’ll topple entirely, and no one will bother to set her upright again.” Both the Angel and Hagar will fall, forgotten and alone, and surrounded by the dead. Throughout the book, Laurence places the Angel with imagery of death. She stands in a graveyard, Hagar becomes her when her son dies, and she is made to mark the death of Hagar’s mother. All of this imagery is foreshadowing in place to alert the reader of Hagar’s death. Specifically, her death at the hands of pride. It is Hagar’s pride that leads her to escape her caregivers, and collapsing in the wild; she survives only a few days more, until it is implied at the hospital that she meets her end. Much like how the Angel’s on stony weight is dragging her into the earth, Hagar’s own sin is as well.
Margaret Laurence subverts traditional angelic imagery to give physical presence to her protagonist’s sin. She presents the formation, adoption, and destruction path of the sin of pride through the sculpting, eroding, and toppling of a stone Angel figure. Using an inanimate object, Hagar’s arc is traced in stone. In her reversal, Laurence creates a warning of the nature of pride, and the death and alienation it leads to.
Gif: GIPHY. “Rainfall Stone Angel GIF – Find & Share on GIPHY.” GIPHY, GIPHY, 11 Apr. 2018, giphy.com/gifs/rainfall-stone-angel-ukQKU80KKriik.